Summer classes mean catching up or getting ahead

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2003

If past practice is an indication, about one of 12 Juneau public school students will spend part of their summer in class. Nearly all will be there because they weren't meeting the district's standards in the core subjects of reading, writing or math.

"You'd categorize the students as being struggling learners, so our focus is to help students meet the core," said Kimberly Homme, the district's Summer Connection principal.

The district is evaluating the impact summer school has on students, but doesn't have results yet. But a summer geometry course changed at least one high school student's school career, a parent said in an interview.

The small class and the enthusiastic teacher made her daughter feel comfortable asking questions, said the mother, who asked not to be named to protect her daughter's privacy.

Juneau-Douglas High School in summer is free from the stress of the "overtaxed and overcrowded" regular sessions, the mother said.

The girl had done poorly in algebra and geometry but left the summer course feeling more confident about school, the mother said. Her daughter hasn't taken more math courses, but her grades in other subjects have improved.

Les Morse, principal at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, said summer school offers small classes with experienced certified teachers. The classes are geared toward the specific gaps in students' learning, he said.

"I think it's just absolutely an incredible opportunity, even if it might not feel like it," Morse said.

The district can't require students to attend summer school, but it encourages struggling students to do so by offering core classes for free with a teacher recommendation. The district also offers free school bus service for elementary students and city bus tokens for older kids.

The program is funded mostly by state and federal grants.

Middle school students have the further inducement that they may be held back if they are unsuccessful in completing summer classes. High school students take summer classes to catch up on credits after having failed courses.

Some parents want the district to offer a greater variety of summer courses at the high school, so students can accelerate their learning or at least get some required courses out of the way.

It can be hard for JDHS students to fit desired courses into their schedule during the regular school year, said Margo Waring, chairwoman of the JDHS parent advisory committee for extended-learning, or advanced, students.

In the past, the district has offered physical ed in the summer, and this year it is adding a health class. Students can get those required courses out of the way and take other courses in the regular school year, said Joyce Kitka, the Community Schools supervisor.

"I think that's the first step," she said, "not to say it wouldn't be different next year. But finding 10 kids who want to take, and are willing to pay for, an advanced course would be difficult."

The district needs at least 10 students to justify the cost of holding a summer course. For nonscholarship students, courses cost $240 at the high school level. The district offered a greater variety of high school summer courses as recently as 1999, but families weren't willing to pay the fee, Kitka said.

Other changes this year include a single five-week elementary school session, rather than two three-week sessions. Teachers wanted more continuous time with students, Principal Homme said. The elementary site this year is Glacier Valley Elementary in the Mendenhall Valley.

Besides the basics, the elementary program includes an art class and a keyboarding class, from July 14 to Aug. 8, for $90.

The middle school program, which is at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, will run four days a week for six weeks this year, rather than five days a week for five weeks. The hope is that students will be refreshed by a three-day weekend, Homme said.

The middle school program includes a free open gym from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from June 16 to Aug. 15. Classes in keyboarding and clay-working are available for $90. Students who have completed eighth-grade are eligible to attend high school summer health and PE courses, which cost $240 each.

The high school offers two sessions, each covering a semester of work. Students have the opportunity to make up credits in math, English, history and science, although only the math and English courses are free to failing students.

The deadline to register for the June 9 to July 1 session is May 16. The deadline for the July 14 to Aug. 5 session is June 16.

The registration deadline for elementary and middle school students is June 4. Call 463-1717 for more information.

Parents can enroll their children in courses even without a teacher's recommendation if space is available and they are willing to pay a fee.

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